Quotes by Yehuda Bauer: Rethinking the Holocaust

hch-15-cervantes HCH 15 / March 2017

Quotes by Yehuda Bauer: Rethinking the Holocaust

Rethinking the Holocaust, USA, Yale University Press, 2001, pp. vii–335

“The Holocaust … is a unique genocide, with unprecedented –and, so far, unrepeated– characteristics (…) The Holocaust has … become the symbol for genocide, racism, for hatred of foreigners, and, of course, for antisemitism”, pp. x–xi

“The only way we can deal with a trauma is to face it (…) First we must work through the mourning, the loss. Millions from among the victims vanished in the smoke of the crematoria, and there are no cemeteries where we can conduct mourning ceremonies. Ways have to be found to mourn; otherwise the survivors and descendants will never have peace. The Holocaust has to be incorporated into life, into the present and the future, to give it a meaning that it did not have when it occurred”, pp. xii-xiii

“… the Holocaust becomes … two things: a specifically Jewish tragedy and therefore a universal problem of the first magnitude. Human beings who were Jews were murdered for one reason only: because they were Jews. The murderers also tried to dehumanize their victims –a matter for all humans to ponder. It is we today who have to deal with the Jewish tragedy as a general human tragedy (…) The warning to humankind is written on the wall: beware and learn”, p. xiii

“I think that the planned total murder of a people was an unprecedented catastrophe in human civilization. It happened because it could happen; if it could not have happened, it would not have done so. And because it happened once, it can happen again”, p. 2

“The term genocide was coined by Raphael Lemkin, a refugee Polish-Jewish lawyer in the United States, in late 1942 or early 1943 … he defines genocide as the ‘destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group’ … (It seems that he intended to say ‘the groups as such’, not necessarily all the individuals in them) (…) It may perhaps be argued that partial mass annihilation leads to total extermination (…) Lemkin’s definitions were adopted, in large part, by the United Nations. In the Genocide Convention, approved on December 9, 1948, genocide is defined as ‘any of the following acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical or religious group, as such (…) [Unsuccessful] pressure was exercised in 1948 to include, for instance, the destruction of political groups with the definition of genocide. The inclusion of religious groups –not a part of Lemkin’s definition– was accepted after a long struggle (…) For both religious and political groups, membership is a matter of choice –again, in principle, if not always in practice. One cannot change one’s ethnicity or nationality or “race” –only the persecutor can do that, as the Germans did when they ‘Germanized’ Polish adults and children. Without such action, there is absolutely no way out for the member of a targeted ethnic or national group: that person is a Pole, or a Rom (“Gypsy”), or a Jew, or a Serb. Hence my conclusion that the term genocide should be used only for attacks on the groups specified by Lemkin”, pp. 8 – 12

“No gradation of human suffering is possible. A soldier who lost a leg and a lung at Verdun suffered. How can one measure his suffering against the horrors that Japanese civilians endured at Hiroshima? How can one measure the suffering of a Rom woman at Auschwitz, who saw her husband and children die in front of her eyes, against the suffering of a Jewish woman at the same camp who underwent the same experience? Extreme forms of human suffering are not comparable, and one should never say that one form of mass murder is ‘less terrible’, or even ‘better’ than another. The difference between the Holocaust and less radical genocides lies not in the amount of sadism or the depth of hellish suffering, but elsewhere”, p. 13

“The history of the Holocaust tells us of horrors and brutalities that are ‘indescribable’, by which we mean that we view them with total revulsion –but they have of course been described, which is how we know about them”. They are extreme in that they present the depths of human depravity and human suffering. The extreme humiliation of individuals in huge numbers, the brutal murder by club, bullet, and gas, mass death by starvation and induced diseases, and, beyond everything else perhaps, the murder of children, are part of the historical record. The burning or burying alive of children are among the most horrible scenes described. Such events are so far beyond the trivialities of everyday life, even beyond the tragedies of everyday life, that we tend to say to ourselves that we can never fully understand them because we cannot imagine ourselves experiencing them”, p. 18

“Using terms such as beastly and bestiality to describe the Nazis is an insult to the animal kingdom and should not be used, because animals do not do things like that. The behavior of the Nazis was not ‘inhuman’. It was only too human. It was evil, not inhuman”, p. 21

“The Germans did not know, until sometime in 1941, what they would do with the Jews: the decision to murder them was not taken until then. If the Germans did not know, the Jews cannot be expected to have known either”, pp. 25, 26

“In a society that had willingly accepted the absolute leadership of a ruling elite and especially of its head, the intellectuals became the chief transmitters of murderous orders. And if the people with social and intellectual status led the way in executing such orders more efficiently, recruiting ordinary murderers from the lower ranks of society became very easy (…) Two of the four Einsatzgruppen, the murder groups detailed in 1941 to kill targeted groups, mainly Jews, in the newly occupied Soviet territories, were commanded by Dr. Walther Stahlecker, and Dr. Otto Rasch (another intellectual with two Ph.D.s). A third was commanded by Otto Ohlendorf, an outstanding economist and lawyer. I have already mentioned the doctors at Auschwitz. Some of the concentration camp commanders boasted university degrees. The doctors, biologists, chemists, engineers, bureaucrats, and so on, who were involved in everything from deportations to death camps to medical ‘experiments’, were central, not incidental, parts of the murder machine. The same must be said about the scientists, philosophers, historians, and theologians at universities, who supplied the rationalizations for the murder machine with verve and a great deal of individual initiative. On the other hand, local sadists in charge of liquidation of ghettos in the East mostly came from lower-middle-class or peasant backgrounds or from the déclassé produced by the crisis-ridden German society of the 1920s (…) [once] the Führer expressed a desire and once an enthusiastic class of educated people backed it, the simpler folk who did the shooting and beating and child-murdering were easily found”, p. 36

“The moderate antisemitism of a large part of the German population, or even the queasiness that many, if not most, Germans felt in connection with the Jews, was absolutely crucial. It prevented any effective opposition to the murder of an unpopular minority”, p. 36

“[One] must not forget … that the Nazi regime was not as totalitarian as most people seem to think. Of the many proofs of this let me mention the well-known fact that the murder of the handicapped Germans, the so-called euthanasia, was stopped, at least officially (although in fact it was continued on a smaller scale), by protests from the German churches, segments of the public, and even Party members (…) [At] the end of February and during the first days of March 1943, hundreds, maybe more, German women demonstrated –successfully– in the Berlin Rosenstrasse in front of a police building to demand that the Gestapo return their Jewish husbands to them. Resistance to Nazi policies was possible, and not one case is known of a German who refused to participate in the murder … who was punished by incarceration or execution”, p. 37

“One major difference between the Holocaust and other forms of genocides is … that pragmatic considerations were central with all other genocides, abstract ideological motivations less so. With the Holocaust, pragmatic considerations were marginal (…) [The] basic motivation was purely ideological, rooted in an illusionary world of Nazi imagination where an international Jewish conspiracy to control the world was opposed to a parallel Aryan quest. No genocide to date had been based so completely on myths, on hallucinations, on abstract, non-pragmatic, ideology –which then was executed by very rational, pragmatic means. Just as Christian antisemitism was based on theologian speculations … so Nazi antisemitism, which originated in the same Christian delusions … translated its murderous abstractions into gradually developing policies of segregation, starvation, humiliation, and, finally, planned total murder”, p. 48

“[The] Holocaust is an extreme form of genocide (…) The suffering of the victims of this genocide was in no sense greater than the suffering of victims of other genocides –there is no gradation of suffering. This, the fate of the Roma victims at Auschwitz was exactly parallel to that of the Jewish victims. What is meant by ‘extreme’ is expressed by the three elements described above: the ideological, global, and total character of the genocide of the Jews. The extremeness of the Holocaust is what makes it unprecedented”, p. 50

“Goldhagen is absolutely right when he insists … that by 1940 – 1941 German society had become a reservoir for willing executioners (…) Goldhagen has an argument with Christopher R. Browning over what percentage of Germans were potentially or actually willing to participate in the genocide. Browning believes that the percentage of policemen examined who were opposed to murder was 10 to 20 percent: Goldhagen says 10 percent of all Germans were opposed. In either case, the statement that the vast majority of the German population were willing to be recruited for the murder of Jews stands”, pp. 102, 103

“A second problem is captured by the question of why one says ‘Germans’, not ‘Nazis’ … Here the answer has to take into account the findings, already discussed, that the vast majority of the German population supported, participated in, or at least condoned the genocidal murder of Jews and many others”, p. 120

“From a non-orthodox point of view, even more so from a nonreligious point of view, theology does not yet seem to have come up with any answer to the Holocaust. Historical, sociological, psychological, and maybe even philosophical explications have been more productive. Some might even doubt the relevance of the theological answer altogether, so far. That, indeed, is my own position. The theology of the Holocaust is fascinating, but it is a dead end”, p. 212


(Bauer: Rethinking the Holocaust, Antonia Tejeda Barros, Madrid, 2017)